This post is inspired by criticisms of a new sitcom (here), that I am actually not going to talk about at all, but figured that I would mention...
Yesterday, when I arrived at daycare to pick up my kids, two boys (about 10 years old) were dressed up as girls, wearing sleeveless dresses and high heeled shoes from the dress up bin.
This, in and of itself, is not a problem. I love when kids play dress up, I have a wide array of dress up clothes in a dress up toy box at home and there are no gender rules when it comes to who can wear what costumes. The problem that I had was with regards to how they were wearing the clothes, the way this was seen as humorous by the other kids, and the reasons behind this humour.
At first, I tried to tell myself that it was the element of it being unexpected that was funny to the kids... like when I make used to make my kids laugh, as toddlers, by putting one of their toys on my head like a hat or by using a shoe like a telephone and pretending to be confused when it didn't work. But I think this is more than that... little girls at the daycare dress up in men's clothing all the time, wearing suit jackets and ties or a variety of other outfits that are gendered as masculine. I have yet to witness this being seen as funny. But as soon as these boys came out of the change room in dresses and heels, the daycare exploded in laughter.
If femininity was equal to masculinity within society, this would not be funny. It becomes funny for boys to wear strapless dresses, high heeled shoes, and to walk with exaggerated hip motions because femininity has less value than masculinity, and the children at daycare know it.
I'm not saying that drag is misogynist, I love drag for a variety of reasons that I am not going to get into in this post, but I am mentioning this to differentiate someone who is gendered as male dressing in ways designated for females as a joke and those who do it for reasons related to gender identity, expression, or to expose problems with the gender binary (among other reasons).
I believe that for someone who is gendered as a male to dress in female clothing for humor (with some exceptions)is not unlike a white person wearing blackface; it is someone from a dominant group making fun of an oppressed or marginalized group.
I'm not entirely sure what the solution this specific issue would be... I don't think it would be appropriate or helpful for daycare workers to enforce gendered dress up rules; gender policing would make things worse, not better. But I do think that education could help, try to teach children why it isn't funny. I also think that the only real solution would be to end patriarchal social relations that lead to this being funny in the first place.